How has the economic crisis impacted on migration patterns across Europe? This question is addressed in a new four-page ESPON Evidence Brief. The theme was also a central feature of the ESPON seminar in Vilnius on 4-5 December. Migration has been a priority concern of the Lithuanian EU Presidency. This is not surprising, given the scale on which this small country has been haemorrhaging people in recent years. It is estimated that a sixth of the population has been lost over the last 20 years. However, as we in the UK know, migration has become a hot political topic in many countries. For example there are concerns in countries around the Mediterranean about their “front line” position in relation to illegal immigration from Africa and the Middle East.
Different categories of migration
The ESPON work distinguishes four types of migration flows. These are:
- · Global migration;
- · European external migration (flows into Europe from outside, and vice-versa);
- · Migration between European countries;
- · Movements of people within one European country.
Globally migration has been increasing. Europe attracts more of these migrants than anywhere else. However, the migrants still make up a lower proportion of the population in Europe than is the case in countries like Australia and Canada.
Researchers recognise that motives for migration vary. Not every migrant is a Dick Whittington searching her/his fortune. For some, especially for retirees, the aspiration is for a better quality of life. We can distinguish between:
- · 16-24 year olds: the pre-employment group. This age group moves for personal development, particularly through entry to higher education. The UK, Italy and Spain are the favourite destinations. Within countries the youngsters head for the capitals, the second tier cities and university towns.
- · 25-49 year olds largely react to economic drivers, so where they head for is largely a question of the economic offer of a place. In other words it is the economically strong regions that draw this group.
- · The over 50s are likely to seek quality of life, regions with good landscape quality, and good public services, especially health services. They escape from the capitals and big cities.
The effects of the crisis
The economic crisis has had some dramatic effects on the patterns of migration within the EU. In general migration has slowed down, presumably because people are less confident that they can find their Shangri-La. However, it is the geography of the changes that hits home. Before the crisis there was a broad pattern of a shift from the east and north of Europe to its west and south. Spain, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Iceland and Portugal were drawing in more migrants than the numbers who emigrated. With the crisis the figures have reversed and these countries have experienced net losses through migration.
In addition, Latvia and Lithuania had been losing people before 2007, but the crisis just appears to have made the situation worse. These countries have experienced sharp falls in GDP and high unemployment. In contrast, countries with strong welfare systems (a list that still includes the UK, along with Germany, Belgium, Luxemburg, Finland and Norway) have seen continued in-migration. The highest flow of intra-EU migration in the 2008-11 period was between Germany and Poland. Before the crisis the main movement was from Poland into Germany, but after 2008 the pattern flipped, and the dominant flow was from Germany to Poland.
Overall the economic drivers have become more significant factors in migration since the crisis hit. This means that regions that played on their environment and quality of life as the way to attract migrants have been hardest hit. If we look in more detail within countries, we find that the big cities have remained the most potent magnets. However, the seminar heard that in Greece there were signs of people moving back from the cities to rural areas where the cost of living is less, and it may be possible to earn something from small farming, for example.
Discussion recognised that migration has impacts on both the origin and destination. Free movement of labour within Europe has increased competitiveness by keeping down wages in receiving countries, but also added pressures on housing and social services. Meanwhile the brain drain from the net exporters, whether they be countries or rural regions, is not compensated by the level of remittances from the migrants. The Baltic states’ combination of a well-educated, multi-lingual population and a low wage economy and weak welfare provision creates an entirely predictable set of outcomes. These include not just a drain of skilled labour, but all the costs of sustaining services on a declining tax base.
Despite these problems there were calls to build links with the diasporas, and to forge partnerships between exporting and importing regions.
ESPON work has also highlighted the gender dimension of migration from more rural regions. It is the young women who have been most likely to head abroad or to the big city, leaving the lads to cuddle the reindeers. This is a theme I touched on in a previous blog
However it seems to me that we need to look a little more critically at the gender dimension of migration if we are to understand the way that the crisis is like to reshape future development patterns. I would argue that from the 1980s we saw what I would call “gendered Keynesianism”. By this I mean that governments invested to get more women into the labour market. The growth of higher education was a key driver, together with the dramatic changes in gender ratios.
As many more women gained qualifications and became independent earners, they were also able to become independent spenders. Shopping became a leisure activity – but not because men’s aversion to shopping had changed overnight! The new shopping malls that began to be developed boosted jobs (often part-time) in retailing that were largely filled by women who previously would have been outside the labour market. Indeed the wider shift to a service economy boosted female job opportunities, while the mines and steel works were closing.
In all of this the role of government was very important. More women in work meant increased tax revenues that could help to fund the extended delivery of health, education and welfare services – all sectors where most employees are women. Thus more jobs, more tax income, more consumer spending – the growth cycle sustained itsself.
The spatial impacts of all this were those I sketched above; the movement of young women from rural areas into university cities, capitals and other urban centres, but also a growth in professional opportunities for women in the rural service hubs. You could add out-of-town shopping malls, the growth of university areas and gentrification of some urban areas to the list of spatial impacts.
In other words gender has been crucial to economic and spatial restructuring of regions and urban space. But what is happening now? Patterns are not constant across Europe, and there remain important differences between places. However, the bail-out of the banks is being paid for by austerity policies and welfare cuts. In countries that have retained a highly localist form of governance with a multiplicity of small muniicpalities, there are calls for rationalisations and larger units, a route that Great Britain set out on in the 1970s.
As the public sector has been a major source of jobs, and especially professional jobs for women, the austerity demanded by those who lend money threatens to break the growth cycle. The brakes are being pulled on the engine that has been driving Keynesian-style urban and regional growth.
I am not sure whether my speculations are robust, or just where they point. But if I am right, we might need to change our mind-set about local and regional planning and economic development. The future will not be the same as the past.